P.O.D --- Payment on Delivery

Fifteen: The Takatori Princess
"Let me have a few moments to fake admiration and then scratch you from my list of future contacts."

    Schuldich was being escorted back to Farfarello's apartments when the call came. Yohji was driving in the front seat while Asuka sat passenger, fiddling with a blade. As soon as the harsh trill came the woman set her blade on the dashboard and fished her cell phone out of her pocket. Schuldich's first snide thought was that it hadn't taken them long to get the jailbird a phone, but such thoughts were about all he could manage when he was drugged on painkillers. He'd told the doctor not to give him drugs; he'd learned long ago that the last thing he needed was to get his brain addled. Even still, Yohji and Asuka had convinced the doctor to shoot him up and there hadn't been much Schuldich could have done about it. A move to get off the table had had a knife in Asuka's hands and the doctor hadn't even flinched at the threat of violence.

    Farfarello had been right; Schuldich had no clue what it meant for Farfarello to have contacts with so many people.

    "Hey lovie," Asuka greeted, and Schuldich arched an eyebrow at his reflection on the window. Asuka jerked upright then; Schuldich caught the movement out of the glimpse of his eye and he was at the hazy state of mine where the sudden movement had his heart restarting in his chest. Blue eyes jumped her way even as he attempted to get his heartbeat under control again, and though Asuka said nothing else for a long minute, Yohji kept flicking her looks.

    "I'll take care of them," was the heated promise. "We'll take care of them. Where are you?" Silence again, and then Asuka hung up without another word. She threw her phone up onto the dashboard; it hit the windshield and skittered across the glass over near Yohji.

    "Asuka?" Yohji pressed. "What's wrong?"

    "Someone took Ken."

    Yohji gaped at her, and in so doing, failed to notice the approaching stop sign until they were almost there. A quick look back to the road and he spotted it, and he slammed on the brakes. The front two slammed forward against their seatbelts. Schuldich, who hadn't bothered to buckle, when crashing into Yohji's seat and swore viciously at the pain that managed to work its way through the foggy mess in his mind.

    "What?" Yohji demanded. "Who?"

    "Crawford called it in to Farfarello just a minute ago; someone grabbed him when he left Choice Enterprises." Here Asuka turned in her seat to level a fierce look at Schuldich, who was trying to push himself up from the heap he'd fallen in. "If this was a set up on your part…"

    "Do I look stupid?" Schuldich sent back acidly. "Did you not taking fucking notice of what happened to my face? My life is only good so long as I'm alive and double-crossing Farfarello seems the fastest way to have a bad time of things."

    "Why Ken?" Yohji wanted to know, gunning the engine. "No one knows who he is- no one. Takatori's side is afraid of Mamoru, not Ken. How many people ever knew for sure that Matsumichi had a son? Most figured it was a rumor."

    "Someone knows," Asuka said.

    "Then we've been betrayed," Yohji said. "Someone from the inside, or one of those asshats that came to pay homage to Mamoru. Someone came just to stake the place out and they turned us in. But how did they know to target Ken? Maybe they didn't. Maybe they just saw him by himself and figured he was one of Farfarello's top circle and-"

    "Someone knows," Asuka insisted again, cutting through Yohji's agitated rambling. Yohji fell silent, fingers tightening on the steering wheel. "It's something Farfarello and I knew might happen."

    Schuldich's first thought was that she was going to blame it on him and Crawford again and he idly raked his mind for anything he could say in his defense. In the driver's seat Yohji threw Asuka an intent look, obviously not appreciating that there was a contingency he'd been clueless to.

    "But who-"

    "Hel," Asuka answered, lips curving in an unpleasant little smile. "Who else? She sold her services to Reiji after she ran Shuuichi off the road. She knew about Ken as much as I did; Kikuno trusted all of us with her nephew's existence."

    "Nice way to answer trust," Schuldich offered up from the back seat. "You toasted the Matsumichi family and then killed the younger Takatoris. Let me have a few moments to fake admiration and then scratch you from my list of future contacts."

    "Watch it," Yohji snapped over his shoulder. "Asuka's the only reason Ken's alive today."

    "And he seems so happy for it, too," Schuldich sent back. "What's going to happen to him? Where did they take him?"

    "You ask us like we know already," Yohji said, and green and blue eyes met on the rearview mirror.

    "They can't kill him yet," Asuka said. "Mamoru's been under Farfarello's thumb for years; he knows exactly who he is and always has. Ken is clueless; his mind hasn't been made up yet. He can be shaped however one wants. He's the true heir to the bloodline and Takatori's going to want to try and take advantage of that first."

    "Ouka," Yohji realized, sounding startled.

    "Ouka?" Schuldich echoed. "That ugly fluff of a child that he dotes on?"

    "Ouka's going to inherit Takatori's empire and everyone knows it. He makes no secret of the fact that he thinks his sons are worthless scumbags; it's Ouka he's been raising to take reign. He thinks it's time for the empire to have a queen. If he could unite the Takatori and Matsumichi bloodlines again…"

    "Like Ken would ever marry a *woman*," Schuldich muttered, because it was the only way he knew to react. He wasn't sure what to feel or think about the news of Ken's abduction. Someone knew who Ken was and had walked off with him. Schuldich had tried to leave because he didn't want to get snagged in the upcoming war, but how was Ken, a bleeding heart and handicap, supposed to react when he found out the truth? Ken had to figure it out at some point and apparently Asuka's entrance had jogged a few things in his mind, but still. This was Ken.

    Again he felt fingers tightening over his hand, again he heard Ken arguing whether or not he should care that Hanae had died, and again he heard Ken protesting so ardently against what Schuldich was pushing him into because he was afraid of what others would think of him.

    To think of Ken being caught up in this…? Schuldich felt selfish suddenly for fleeing, though he told himself it was the stupidest thing he'd ever felt. There was no real explanation for it; there was no explanation for him to give a damn what sort of mess the youth had gotten into.

    "Someone must have seen him earlier," Asuka mused, ignoring them. "Someone must have come from Takatori's side to see who was standing against him and to confirm that Mamoru lived. If they memorized the top circle they would have noticed Ken. Look at his eyes; he's memorable. About as much as you," she added, flicking Schuldich a cool look.

    "Keh," Schuldich muttered, slouching in his chair and reaching for his seat belt at last. "Hate to break it to you but Yohji and Nagi are the only ones out of your entire group that could easily hide in a crowd. Farfarello has two blue haired chics and then had three blue-eyed people with him. I think you're pretty much all fucked."

    "We're not," she corrected him mildly. "You're a con artist, Mastermind. We're businessmen in a bloody line of work. We can handle ourselves."

    "And I was handling myself just fine," Schuldich pointed out.

    "By leaving the country?" She gave a derisive snort.

    "Fuck off and die, jailbird."

    "Not just yet," was her answer, and a grim little smile curved her lips. "And not without taking some old companions of mine with me."


    Ken came to in a bedroom that was almost as big as his entire apartment. He was stretched out on his back on a bed- a real bed- and staring up at a pale blue ceiling. The curtains on the window were ruffled and two-toned in shades of navy and pink and the wood trim was a reddish brown. Paintings hung on the wall and a teddy bear perched on a dresser, big eyes staring blankly off into space. His first thought was that his mind had snapped under the day's strain and he cautiously pushed himself up, looking around.

    He remembered being hit on the head, and then-

    And then?

    The sound of humming reached his ears, coupled with running water, and Ken pushed the covers aside. He felt tense despite the seemingly innocent surroundings; getting beamed in broad daylight had a tendency to make one cautious.

    There was a foggy sliding door to separate the bedroom from everything else and Ken tested it, pushing carefully at one end, to make sure it was unlocked. When it offered no resistance he pulled it all the way open, and the sight that met his eyes had his mind scrambling for an explanation.

    There was a girl standing at the counter, younger than he, with dark brown hair and bright pink eyes. A frilly apron was tied around her neck and waist and her arms were buried in a suds-filled sink up to her elbows. A small radio shaped like a ladybug sat off to one side, playing current pop hits while its wings jiggled in time. She glanced his way as he appeared in the doorway and quieted in her humming only long enough to offer him a "Good evening." Then it was right back to work, business as usual.

    Ken wasn't entirely sure what to make of such a thing. He eyed the petite girl for a minute more before venturing to say, "I don't think I know you."

    "Oh no, we haven't been properly acquainted yet," she assured him, and she pulled her arms free to dry them on a dish towel. That accomplished, she executed a slight bow to him. "You'll call me Ouka. Is calling you 'Ken' all right? Hidaka-san sounds so formal."


    ~Not a good person. Be a bad person.~

    "Yes, that's fine. It's… nice to meet you."

    "You don't have to sound so hesitant about it," she huffed, and again Ken floundered for a way to respond. Ouka went back to work again. "You make a girl feel unwelcome."

    "Excuse me if my manners are a bit raw," Ken sent back, feeling a little of his spine return, "but I was beat over the head in broad daylight and woke up in a stranger's apartment."

    "Who's a stranger?" she demanded, sending him a cool look and slapping her hands against the side of the sink. "We've been introduced, and all. And the beating isn't my fault; they were supposed to extend a cordial invitation. You think it does me any good that you showed up unconscious and slept for two hours?"

    Ken just gaped at her. "*You*?" he asked disbelievingly. "You were behind that?"

    She offered him a pretty little scowl as she rinsed the last dish off. It was set to one side to dry and she pulled the plug from the drain before turning to face him once more. "Like I said, it was supposed to be a pleasant meeting." She dried her arms off a second time and propped her hands on her hips, eyeing him archly. "We two are special, Ken. We are children of a new generation; we are standing at the threshold of the rest of our lives."

    "I think every day counts as the threshold for the rest of our lives," Ken pointed out. "Are you a solicitor?"

    She threw the dish towel at him. "Do you have no clue who I am? I am Takatori Ouka, cousin to Takatori Mamoru, and the current heir to the Takatori empire! How can you look at me and ask if I am an ordinary salesperson? Do you not recognize me or my name?"

    Well… Ken thought that finding out her identity effectively scratched off any possibility of this being a happy-go-lucky meeting. Apparently the kidnapping set the right tone for the rest of his day. "Ah," he said, for lack of anything better to say.

    "My father thought it would be a good idea for us to meet."

    "And the reason being…?"

    She looked at him like he was dense. "Do you not get it?" she asked, and he supposed he didn't. "The power your family lost eight years ago is now my father's, and one day it will be mine. It may have been yours originally but officially Matsumichi Kentaro is dead. What will you do, Ken? Will you fight me for it?" Her pink gaze bored into him, her expression set in solemn lines. "Will you let your people go to war against mine? Do you have any clue how many people would die for that?"

    "I'm not asking them to fight for me," Ken told her.

    "They fight for your honor; they fight for your blood. You'd be hard pressed to stop them. But the Matsumichi era is over, for now." She pointed a finger at him. "They will put you on the throne whether you want it or not. Or, if you prefer, I could kill you right now and then settle for fighting my cousin instead. Word is that he's still alive."

    "I think you're insane," Ken decided. How could a girl like this stand there and offer up so easily the possibility of killing him? "I'm leaving."

    She arched an eyebrow at him. "Are you?"

    "I am."

    She shrugged, stepping to one side. "If you think so."

    The words gave him pause, but Ken moved past her and headed for the door. It was unlocked, so he pulled it open, and he found himself facing two tall women. One was playing with knives and the other had a long red rope- a whip- wrapped around her arm. He blinked at the sight of them and they gazed back calmly. The one with the knives tilted her head to one side.

    "Going somewhere?" she asked.

    "I'm going home," Ken told her, and took a step out into the hall.

    The blonde aimed a kick at him; Ken had to jump back to avoid it, and three knives appeared in the door beside his face when he bumped into it. He felt a stinging in his cheek where one cut through the skin. "You're not going anywhere," the dark haired one assured him. "We're not finished with you yet. Go back inside; you'll be leaving in the morning."

    Ken started to reach for one of the knives and the whip lashed out, cracking against his hand. He swore at the pain and clutched the hand as it went numb, staring at the two. The dark haired one took a step forward, pulling a gun out of her pocket and aiming it at him. Ken's first dizzying thought was that guns weren't allowed in Japan; the second was that the gun was pointed at his face.

    "Go back inside," she told him.

    Ken weighed the pros and cons and found the pros to be the better path. He slid along the door back inside and the blonde reached out to tug it closed. He was left to stare at the wood and Ouka sighed behind him. He shot her a quick glance over his shoulder. "Who are they supposed to be?"

    "Bodyguards my father loaned me," Ouka answered. "Come. I'll make us hot tea and we can talk. You might as well make yourself at home until the morning."

    "Why don't I just use you as a hostage to get out?" Ken asked. Actions spoke louder than words; Ouka reached behind her apron and pulled out a gun, aiming at him with a steady hand. "Oh."

    "Oh," Ouka agreed. "Like I said, make yourself at home. I mean you no harm, Ken. I think we can accomplish great things together. I just want a chance to talk to you."

    "Call me skeptical, but I'm not inclined to trust you."

    "That's a pity." She gestured with the gun towards the bedroom and Ken had little choice but to head that direction. She watched him pass within an inch of her without even leaning back from him and the gun never wavered. Ken wondered for a brief moment if he could get it away from her, but he'd never touched a gun in his life and she was obviously comfortable with it. He had a feeling he'd just end up bleeding all over the place if he tried and he'd really rather like to avoid that scenario, thank you very much.

    He waited on the bed until she came in with a tray. She set it down on the bedside table and handed him his mug of hot tea. A plate of cookies was set down between them and she took a spot a little further down the bed. For a few minutes they sipped at their tea in silence while Ken tried to sneak glances at the window and see how high they were from the ground.

    At last Ouka spoke. "My father has a proposition," she announced. "As I've already said, the power is the Takatoris' now, but your people still believe otherwise. Your side will not give up until you have the throne, but my father and I refuse to give it up so easily. Neither of us want to see Japan's underworld erupt in total war and chaos, right?"

    "That would probably be a bad thing."

    She offered him an amused look. "I'm guessing casualties would be in the hundreds. I don't think you understand the kind of loyalty we're fighting with here; there are so many people that would be willing to die for each of us. So the problem is, how to we keep them from killing each other off?"

    "Split the power?" Ken guessed, reaching out set his hot tea on the bedside table and making a small show out of waving his fingers as if the mug had been too hot.

    Ouka muttered something into her hot tea and Ken took that moment to act. He lunged towards her, catching her shoulder. The hot tea went spilling across her and the bed and she uttered a small cry as it burned her. Ken sat perched on top of her, holding her hands down against the mattress, and she stared up at him in surprise. Surprise, yes, but no fear.

    "Where's the gun?" he demanded.

    "Are you going to fuck me, Ken?"

    He stared. "I don't… think those two questions are in any way related."

    She gave him a patient look as if he wasn't pinning her down, as if he didn't have the upper hand of this little meeting now. "The only way to keep the underworld in peace is to join the bloodlines again. You marry me and we rule the empire together: the traditional Matsumichi prince and the Takatori princess."

    "You're joking, right?"

    "Do you want people to die needlessly? You marry me and we can avoid all of that. It's the only way. The sides would be forced to make truce with each other. I've heard of the people on your side, Ken. Do you honestly think that freak Irishman will stop until he gets what he wants? He's already driven my father almost to the point of declaring bankruptcy. He destroyed my father's alliances and his bank."

    "Doesn't sound to me like your position's very good, then. Where's the gun?"

    "You've managed to injure my father's wealth, but the power is still ours. The people aren't loyal to us because we have money; they're loyal to us because we can do things. We are keys, Ken. We move the pieces to make things possible. Everything we do and say has an affect on the world, and they flock to us for that."

    "Where's the gun?"

    There was a clack of a footstep in the hall and Ken looked to see the two women had come inside, drawn by the sound of Ouka's cry. He shifted slightly, ready to dodge any knives they might throw his way, and felt something hard dig into his knee. The blonde was uncurling her whip, eyeing him distastefully.

    "We suggest you get off of her," she said. "Immediately."

    "Everything's under control here," Ouka assured them.

    "We'll be the judge of that," the dark one said, twirling a blade idly between her fingers. It reminded Ken of Farfarello and he decided he knew too many nutcases. Schuldich had said it right, hadn't he? 'Hate to break it to you, but you know some fucked up people.' He almost found himself wishing for the simpler days when he hadn't known what was going on.

    The blonde's whip fell around her and she gave it a warning tug. "Now," she ordered Ken.

    Ken told himself that he had a one in ten chance in making this work, but it was still worth a try. He kept his grip on Ouka and threw himself off the far side of the bed. She grunted as she hit the floor under him and he was already moving, reaching under her apron to grab the gun. He desperately hoped that they wouldn't be able to tell that he'd never held one before and rolled off of Ouka, aiming it in the bodyguards' direction.

    That was about the time that he decided there was something wrong with Ouka, because her expression didn't change at all at the sight of him with the gun. The bodyguards scowled, though, and the three stared each other down.

    "I'm leaving," Ken insisted again, and he pushed himself to his feet, moving the gun back and forth between the two.

    The blonde moved, pulling her whip back, and Ken found himself reacting instinctively. The gun jumped from the dark haired one to her and he realized she was calling his bluff. He could see her arm start to move, could see the muscles bunch as she started to throw her arm forward, and he didn't think about it. The gun was in his hand and pointed in her direction and there wasn't any time to think. He just pulled the trigger.

    He saw the blood explode onto the wall behind her just as silver flashed and his knee exploded in pain. His knee, his good knee—

    He yelled at the pain, unable to hold himself up on just his braced leg, and fell to the ground. Ouka was already moving forward and she grabbed the gun from fingers that had gone slack with pain. It was pointed at his face immediately but he didn't notice; his eyes were squeezed tightly closed as his hands clenched around his knee. There was extra weight against the blade as a hand settled on the hilt and then Ouka yanked it free in an expert move. The sheer pain of it had him giving a hoarse cry and teal eyes flew open to stare at the young girl in front of him.

    Ouka got to her feet and turned to look towards her bodyguards. The dark haired one, content that Ouka had things under control again, turned to check on her companion. The woman was out of sight on the floor and Ken could only stare at the thick blood that was splattered across the paint. The bodyguard's blood… He'd done that. Ken had *shot* someone.

    There was shock that it had actually hit her, followed by disbelief that he'd actually fired a gun at someone.

    "Hel?" Ouka asked.

    "She's dead," was the pronouncement, and Hel straightened from her spot by the other's body.

    "She's what?" Ken choked out. For a moment he couldn't feel the pain in his legs; he felt nothing at all as he stared at her. "She's not- she can't be."

    "She is," Hel answered, and Ken realized then that she didn't care. He looked towards Ouka, who was considering the body from her spot. At last she gave a little shrug and turned back to Ken.

    "You can go, Hel. I don't think he's going anywhere anytime soon. Not anymore, anyway."

    "I'll call clean up duty." Hel started for the door, leaving her fallen companion behind, and Ken could just stare at Ouka as blood ran over his fingers onto her floor.

    ~How can they not care?~ he thought, feeling nauseous. ~She's dead. Oh my God, I just killed someone. I just killed someone. Oh God oh God oh God. One minute she was alive and now…~

    It was horrifying how easy it had been, and he didn't even realize he was mumbling "I didn't I didn't I didn't" until Ouka crouched in front of him. She kept the gun pointed at his face as her other hand checked out his knee.

    "I'll bandage this up," she told him. "Just sit still."

    "It's a joke, right?" Ken choked out. "She's not really dead. I didn't kill her. I didn't- oh God…"

    She eyed him for a moment and then tapped the gun against her temple. "You should have just fucked me, Ken."

    And with that, she pushed herself to her feet and left the room.


    Things were tense back in Farfarello's apartment. The Irishman had left for a meeting with Takatori twenty minutes prior and there was no telling when he was coming home- if he was. Nanami and Asuka had gone with him for back up, leaving what was left of the group to sit and wait and hope for the best. Omi and Nagi had taken over the couch Farfarello usually used while Yohji sat on the chair, and Schuldich sat against the wall near the door, fidgeting with his bandages as the painkillers started to wear off.

    No one had said anything since Farfarello had left, and Schuldich doubted the silence was going to get broken any time soon. He was pretty sure Omi and Nagi hadn't moved other than to blink and breathe since they'd sat down to wait. Schuldich rather hoped that Farfarello came back to them in a Tupperware box, chopped into however many pieces it would take for him to fit, and he wouldn't mind if Asuka happened to drop off the radar as well.

    He picked at his bandages some more, knowing he shouldn't but unable to help it. He supposed he should hope that Farfarello return in one piece, because he was presumably coming back with news of what had happened to the orphan-cripple-florist-waiter-sap-underworld warlord.

    A knock came at the door and Schuldich was pretty sure they all jumped. They exchanged looks, wondering how to react. Farfarello certainly wouldn't knock, and neither would his companions. Schuldich supposed it could have been one of the other tenants, but there was no telling. The silence stretched on as they debated what to do about it and then the knock came again, a distinctive pattern that Schuldich recognized instantly.

    He pushed himself to his feet, using the wall as a prop, and ignored Yohji's "Wait-" to pull the door open.

    Ran stood in the hall, dressed for battle in all black, his katana strapped to his waist. The redhead took one look at Schuldich and tilted his head to one side. "That's new," he said, gesturing to his own face.

    "You're so observant," Schuldich returned sourly. "What are you doing here?"

    "Crawford thought you would need help," was the simple answer, and Ran gave a shrug of his shoulders. "He doesn't know what sort of people you have right now, but he thought it best to have someone you knew." He left off the 'trusted', but Schuldich could hear it in the pause. "Farfarello told him that you had been diverted from the airport."

    "Diverted," Schuldich echoed, finding the word choice so very not amusing. "You think?"

    Ran just shrugged. "People showed up at Choice looking for Crawford."

    "He was long gone?" Schuldich guessed.

    "He called Farfarello and me both from the road. What happened to your eye?"

    "I was diverted," Schuldich sent back, and he turned so Ran could see the rest of the room. "Meet the assholes: one Kudou Yohji, a Naoe Nagi, and a Takatori Mamoru."

    "Mm. The original heir to the Takatori's so-called power." Ran considered that for a moment, staring the youth down across the room with disdain in his eyes. "Useless."

    "Watch it," Yohji warned him.

    "Or what?" was the easy response, and Ran turned his attention on the honey haired man instead. "A Takatori is a Takatori and I hate them all. The power they have now disrupted the balance in Japan and they earned it through betrayal and murder. Japan will be better off when they're all dead."

    "Everyone's entitled to his own opinion," Omi said, completely nonplussed by the other's obvious disregard. "But as I was nine at the time the Matsumichis were killed, I think it is safe of me to say in my defense that I had nothing to do with it."

    "The blood is bad and you were born into it," Ran answered, giving a small flick of his fingers. "The Matsumichi heir is alive. You are not needed."

    "The Matsumichi heir is alive- for now," Nagi pointed out icily. "But Takatori Reiji has his hands on him now, so who knows if that will change?"

    "Who is this man?" Omi wanted to know.

    "He's my partner," Schuldich answered, deciding not to use Ran's name. He had to wonder about Ran's dislike of the Takatori family; he hadn't known Ran had a preference either way. Hell, they'd just found out that Matsumichi Kentaro was alive. Idly Schuldich supposed it meant more to a Japanese citizen who'd grown up around the shifting of power in the empire, but he was still surprised. "I've worked with him for years. He's here to support the Matsumichi side, apparently."

    "We are all technically the Matsumichi side," Omi pointed out. "I am not in this war for my own benefits. I know what my family did eight years ago. I am simply here to help put things to rights. It was intended that any action from the Takatoris would have been aimed at me. We were not expecting them to discover Ken."

    "It is convenient that he was the one noticed and captured," Ran said, and Schuldich could see Nagi and Yohji bristling at the calm accusation.

    Omi, however, didn't even hesitate. "I would think 'unfortunate' would be a better word to use," he said. "But do not stand in the hall, samurai. You'll attract attention from the passing tenants. You might as well come in and wait with us."

    "Farfarello went to talk to Takatori," Schuldich informed Ran. Ran just nodded and stepped in, and Schuldich shut the door. Blue eyes considered his long-time partner, who he'd just left hours ago with the thought that he'd never see again. "You should have left the city," he murmured, thinking of the other's family.

    "Then who would watch your back?" Ran returned.

    Schuldich just scowled at him. "What makes you think I need my back guarded?"

    "I suppose. That's your front." Ran gestured towards Schuldich's injured face.

    Schuldich caught the hem of his jacket, pulling him forward. It was more out of habit than something with much thought to it, but he found himself stopping just before he kissed the other. They hesitated there, just a handspan apart, blue and purple considering each other. Schuldich realized then that he had no interest at all in kissing the other, and he saw that Ran could see it in his eyes. The other didn't look particularly bothered by it, and he said nothing when Schuldich released him and straightened.

    "Don't restrain yourself on our account," was Nagi's sarcastic mutter.

    "You're in for a world of disappointment if you think I take your possible reactions into account before I do things," Schuldich sent back. He propped himself against the wall once more and slid down it, sitting on the ground. Ran opted to stand, arms folded over his chest. Nagi muttered something that Schuldich didn't catch but he didn't press the boy to repeat himself. He wasn't in the mood to argue; he was too busy trying to figure out what he'd so abruptly lost interest in Ran.

    It was as good a topic to distract himself from thinking about their situation than any other, so he sat there and turned it over and over in his mind until Farfarello finally returned.

    At that point, he was too busy noticing that Farfarello returned alone to think about much else.

Part 16
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